I’ve always enjoyed opera music, and over the years have attended performances in New York, Philly, London, Rome, Paris and elsewhere. Now in my dotage, I frequently watch the no-commercials Arts TV channel, which daily features snippets from operas.
Way back in my teens, I failed when I tried out for my high school glee club, ending any hope of being a singer. My opera appearances happened later while a student at the Philly College of Art (now University of the Arts), just two blocks down Broad Street from the famed Academy of Music.
I wasn’t much of an opera fan at that time, but being hired as an extra earned me a dollar, Coke and sandwich. In 1947, a dollar wasn’t a bad pay for two hours of work, especially with the free snack and free high-class entertainment.
Over a four-year period, I stood, marched, sat and/or gestured onstage during many of the world’s most popular operas. More than earning my dollar, drink and snack, I also had a unique education. It was fascinating, and I developed a lifelong love of opera. From old memories, here’s a list of some of my credits as a grand opera extra:
1. Carmen: Picador, marching around waving my sticks at imaginary toros.
2. La Boheme: Poverty-stricken student, not much of a stretch for this real poverty-stricken student.
3. Aida: Marching Egyptian warrior, with shield and spear.
4. Il Trovatore: Walking and sobbing my way to execution as a condemned prisoner.
5. La Traviata: Party animal raising my glass in drunken salute, tho all they gave us was grape juice.
6. The Barber of Seville: Strutting strop guy in mob scenes.
7. Madama Butterfly: Japanese official who hates the U.S. Navy hero; miscasting for this ex-Navy guy.
I still recall the very enjoyable experiences, and especially being on stage with some of the great opera stars of the era, including Beverly Sills, Ezio Pinza, Beniamino Gigli, Rosa Ponselle, Gladys Swarthout and Lauritz Melchior.